Health Minister James Reilly this week played down any fears surrounding the future of St Joseph’s Care Centre, insisting the community based facility was “here to stay”.
The Fine Gael deputy leader spoke about the issue during a whistle-stop tour of the premises last Friday.
He said St Joseph’s remained an integral part in delivering residential care across the midlands despite ever more stringent standards set down by independent health watchdog, HIQA.
“I have had a walk around and seen that it has been modernised in tremendous fashion,” he told reporters just inside the centre’s main lobby area.
“I know for a fact the people here are committed to this hospital. There will be some issues, obviously, in relation to HIQA about new standards, but we are in fact talking to HIQA about those standards,” he said.
Mr Reilly was accompanied on his brief visit by HSE management, Fine Gael TD James Bannon and local party councillors.
Also present was newly named Longford-Westmeath by-election candidate Cllr Gabrielle McFadden as she began her quest to fill the seat left vacant by the death of her late sister, Nicky.
Speaking to the Leader , Mr Reilly rejected the assertion that the drop in bed capacity numbers at St Joseph’s, from a peak of around 120 to an estimated 70, was testimony to HSE cutbacks.
“No,” was his short and snappy reply.
“What that is evidence of is a new and enlightened way of delivering care and an acknoweldgement that most people do not want to be in long term care unless they absolutely need to be there.”
The Minister acknowledged the difficulties posed by the removal of discretionary medical cards.
“We are having ongoing discussions and I intend to continue those until we get to the root of this because the system should not be creating anxiety in people,” he said.
As for the absence of a full time ophthalmologist at St Joseph’s, an issue repeatedly raised by Cllr Peggy Nolan, Mr Reilly said it was a topic he was well aware of.
“I have been told that one has been approved and recruited.”